John Asbury McGee, Jr, was born on July 12, 1933, the latest of a seven-generation string of McGees to be born and live out their lives in Charlotte. He was the son of John Asbury McGee, Sr. and Elizabeth Myers McGee.
The McGees and their forbears, all staunch Presbyterians, founded congregations at Steele Creek Presbyterian Church, Avondale Presbyterian Church and Covenant Presbyterian Church. The McGee clan is Scots-Irish, with all the qualities and idiosyncrasies of that tribe.
John grew up on the edge of Charlotte (which is now near Freedom Park) with the then pastures and forests of Mecklenburg County as his back yard. Together with boyhood friends he rode ponies, fished in creeks, played tennis, and shot the occasional quail.
He often went by “Doc” or “Gee”. Both nicknames fit his casual, sprightly and slightly quirky style. Initially, his children wondered if he would object to these assigned monikers, but he never seemed to mind. As a matter of fact, he didn’t mind about a lot of things.
John was smart. You knew this right away. Just three years after he began his studies at Davidson College, he was quietly offered an examination that would allow him to exempt his final year and go onward to Chapel Hill for medical school. Three things will tell you a lot about John McGee. One is that he finished college in three years (Davidson, Class of 1955). He was a starter on the offensive line of the Davidson football team — at 5’ 10” and 155 lbs. And perhaps most importantly, he met his wife, Julia Lyons Crews, while he was at Davidson.
After getting married and spending four years at UNC Medical School, John served as a Major in the U.S. Army and then settled into a long and successful OB-GYN Oncology practice in Charlotte spanning three decades. He relished solving difficult puzzles with changing variables – such helping patients navigate high risk pregnancies.
John was a jogger forty years before running became fashionable; an avid bicycler around the Queens Road West loop, and a winning local hand-ball player. On the side, he played tennis and swam. All at the same time. We pity the younger men at the Y alongside him in spin class. Here was this 60, then 70, then 80 year-old man that, we are sure, rode them into the ground five or six days a week. He was disciplined and relentless, and no doubt enjoyed a bit of solitude while in his high-heart-rate state. The current capital improvements at the Dowd Y are made possible, in part, by over fifty years of faithfully paid membership dues by John McGee.
He was quick, bright, and very well read. He read big, hard books, mostly non-fiction. He always had a book under his arm and one in his suitcase to pass on to you. He was not the sort to keep finished books around the house, figuring that someone else would too, or they should be returned on-time to the Library to keep him in good standing.
He was a tree-man, an amateur dendrologist, with the smallest but best stocked arboretum in Charlotte located right in his yard. And he was a sailor, a onetime bee-keeper, and life-long do-it-yourself gardener. He kept Myers Park Hardware and later Blackhawk Hardware in business, and if you went there with him it was hard to get him out as he and the staff were all old friends.
Julia, his wonderful wife and partner of nearly fifty years, died suddenly in the spring of 2008. His family and friends wondered how he would survive without Julia.
Gee, however, rejected solitude. When his phone rang he answered it: ‘Can you play golf on Tuesday?’; ‘Want to turkey hunt next weekend’ ‘Dinner Sunday night?’ And so on. He slowly engaged with his warm world of friends that extended from his friends on Briarcliff Road and Westminster Street to Fairbanks, Alaska and Scandinavia. In Risor, Norway, John became a regular summer resident and a minor celebrity at the annual wooden boat festival.
And he traveled. He racked up frequent flyer miles fishing in Alaska and boating in Norway, Greece and the Caribbean. He would come to visit his children two or three weekends in a row, with long stays at the beach or Tampa in between. When visiting his children, he would take command in their kitchen at six thirty in the morning, making scratch-made pancakes and sausages for the whole family. He shared his recipes generously.
His lifelong friends at Covenant Presbyterian Church enrolled him for a medical mission trip to Mexico, then another, then India. He soon began treating patients in India. He had found a calling, and he answered it. Before long he was doing mission work in India every six months.
At nearly eighty years old, he joined a family trip for over a hundred miles of cycling in France. Between trips abroad he took his hunting group fly fishing in the Appalachian foothills, or turkey hunting in the swamps of South Carolina. He was reviving friendships and pastimes first practiced in rural Mecklenburg County, back when there was such a thing. He and his friends fished and walked, and sat by the fire telling the many stories that fill out a long life.
Gee was happier at the social edge than at it’s middle. At a big party he was often the one in the kitchen chatting with the cook. When visiting he would retreat without notice to his room or the porch, absorbed by “The Omnivores Dilemma”, or “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”. He was un-compelled by any social graces to socialize when he didn’t want to. He sometimes arrived without “hello” and left without “goodbye”.
But take him somewhere and he would promptly make a new friend. He could find something of interest in someone, anywhere. Gee and his new friend would stand apart from the rest, chatting amiably. Later, Gee would rejoin us, proudly revealing the common link he had discovered. At the supermarket and he would chat up the butcher. At the convenience store he’d chat up the clerk. Gee was popular, if not magnetic.
John is survived by his brother and four children. His brother, Edgar Montrose McGee, lives in Lexington, Kentucky. John Asbury McGee Jr’s children are Elizabeth Christenberry (Chris) of Tampa; Virginia Richards (Roy) of Charlotte; John McGee (Alicia) of Blacksburg, Virginia; and Margaret Brantley (David) of Spartanburg.
He was grandfather to ten grandchildren: Taylor Elizabeth Christenberry, Thomas Travis Christenberry IV, Ruth Carson Richards, Clara Sullivan Richards, Grace Valentine Richards, Roy McGee Barton Richards, Julia Adams Brantley, Margaret Myers Brantley, John Thomas Cole McGee, and Leighton Joseph McGee. He adored his grandchildren and cheered them on at baseball games, school plays and soccer matches.
A memorial service for John Asbury McGee, Jr. will be held at 11:00 am on July 14, 2018 at Covenant Presbyterian Church at 1000 East Morehead Street, Charlotte, NC 28204. The family will receive visitors before the service at 10:00 am at The Fellowship Hall at Covenant.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Faith, Hope & Love Mentoring Program at Grace Covenant Church, 1800 South Boulevard, Charlotte NC 28203 or to Catawba Lands Conservancy, 4530 Park Road, Suite 420, Charlotte NC 28209.
John McGee served on the board of Faith, Hope & Love Mentoring Program for a decade.